On 22nd March, 1925, there was a lot of commotion in the rural dusty town of Renala Khurd some hundred kilometers south of Lahore. Governor Punjab, Sir William Malcolm Hailey, ICS, was scheduled to arrive in the town to inaugurate 1.1 Megawatt Ganga Power House built over a branch of Lower Bari Doab Canal. The power station had been built by Sir Ganga Ram out of his own pocket who in Sir William Hailey’s words ‘won like a hero and gave like a saint’.
The project was indeed a private venture designed as a part of an irrigation project to lift water of the canal for irrigation of some fifty thousand acres of surrounding lands leased by Sir Ganga Ram. There were atleast three pumping stations in the surrounding area lifting water from the main canal to irrigate the lands and these pumping stations were provided electricity from the Ganga Power House. Over the next decades, the power house would supply electricity to the surrounding villages as well.
Having read the ordeal faced by friend Salman Rasheed in getting access to the power house, I used the good offices of the friendly DCO Okara Saif Dogar and as expected, the doors were wide open for us. After driving through the winding narrow bazaars of Mitchell’s Fruit farms fame Renala, we reached the canal and there was the magnificent power house which can’t escape being noticed. The Resident engineer, Amanullah Khan from Zhob showed us around explaining eloquently the working of the whole power house.
The power house has five 220 KV turbines made by English Electric Company out of which three to four are under operation at any time. Aman was very appreciative of the original machinery and was critical of the replacement parts they are getting these days. He was energetic and treated the power house as his own and one could really feel the pride he had in his job. We were informed that there is another 4 MW power house on the cards on the main canal for last twenty years however it is amazing that while Ganga Ram was able to build this power house in three years in 1925, almost a century later we are stuck with feasibility reports and planning for more than a decade. One can only hope that the new power house shall be completed within next couple of years and without any damage to the present structure of historical Ganga Power House.
Presently the power house produces some six hundred thousand units of electricity which means that it can serve some fifteen thousand poor to middle income households. Ganga Power House provides electricity to the surrounding villages and guess what; these villages are almost free from load shedding even in summers. Just imagine what Ganga Ram has done to this area in few decades. He converted more than fifty thousand acres of semi-arid brackish agricultural land into one of the most fertile agricultural lands in Pakistan and long after he is gone, he is providing load shedding free electricity to thousands of local populace, electricity that is produced at less than a rupee per unit though sold to the locals at ten times the cost of production.
But who was Ganga Ram? Ganga Ram was born in Gangapur in Jaranwala in 1851 to a Police Inspector. The good Inspector realized the importance of education and made sure that his son sails smoothly through local schools and then into Government College. Ganga Ram was a smart kid and so ended up in Roorkee College of Engineering in the foothills of Himalayas. He returned and joined Punjab PWD Department and later designed and built a number of buildings in Punjab. Some of these architectural feats include Lahore Museum, GPO, Aitchison College, Mayo School of Arts, Ganga Ram Hospital, Ganga Power House and not to forget the still functional horse train from Bachiana railway station to Gangapur in Jaranwala. If this is not enough, lo and behold, he was also the architect of Lahore Model Town.
In 1992, riots erupted in Pakistan after Babri Mosque desecration by Hindu fanatics. A number of Hindu temples were ransacked by mobs in Pakistan especially in Punjab. Every good Muslim felt necessary to contribute to this mayhem and Renala proved no less. So a mob gathered and charged to Ganga Power House in Renala. Some of these enthusiasts climbed up the main building and erased Ganga Ram’s name from the building however it did not satisfy their anger and so they found a bust of Sir Ganga Ram at the main entrance to the building. The mob charged with religious fervor, attacked Sir Ganga Ram’s bust and broke it into pieces and threw it into the canal. The mob apparently renamed the Ganga Power House as Zaheer-ud-Din Babar Power House. Today, the bust at the memoriam stands replaced by an un-exploded bomb that was reportedly dropped by Indian Air Force in 1965 war to destroy the power house. Luckily some wise men in WAPDA ensured that Ganga Ram’s name is restored to the building.
However this is not the first time that the statue of Sir Ganga Ram has attracted wrath of religious zealots. Saadat Hasan Manto narrates that in 1947 riots, a mob attacked the statue of Sir Ganga Ram installed on Mall Road. The mob beat the statue, cut the nose, blackened the face and garlanded it with shoes. The Police tried to disperse the mob and during the chaos, the man who brought shoe garland was seriously injured. ‘Let’s take him urgently to Sir Ganga Ram’s Hospital’ came a shout from the mob. Though these seem small incidents, such incidents only point to a grave mind set and societal psyche, becoming even more prevalent with every passing day.
Back to Ganga Power House, in any other country such an architectural and historical gem would be on a tourist map with thousands of history buffs finding their way to the power house to live through time but then we are not any other country. Renala has a striking tourism potential ranging from guided tours through fruit orchards, Mitchells jam and candy factories, Ganga Power House and pumping stations to water sports over mighty Lower Bari Doab Canal. The young DCO is already planning to convert the area around canal into a public park and with support from other agencies like WAPDA, TDCP etc, Renala can definitely be promoted as heritage and agricultural tourism destination.